Tigers left fielder Justin Upton has an opt-out clause in his six-year contract which enables him to hit the free agent market this offseason, but as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports writes, the chances of him opting out this winter are “beyond remote.”
When Upton, 29, signed with Detroit before last season, he was viewed as a player who could potentially be the final piece to the puzzle for a very talented Tigers team. Instead, he’s largely struggled as Detroit has been unable to break away from the middle of the pack in the AL Central, so the odds aren’t great that he’d be able to beat the $22.215 million annual salary that he’s scheduled to earn through 2021.
While Upton tied a career best with 31 home runs in 2016, it was arguably the worst offensive season of his career. His .246 batting average, .310 on-base percentage, and .775 OPS were the worst numbers he had posted in each category since 2007, when he played in 43 games for the Diamondbacks as a 19-year-old rookie. His struggles were most prevalent in the first half, as he posted a .235/.289/.381 slash line in 356 plate appearances.
Upton has made some adjustments during the early part of 2017 and has a career-best 13.1 percent walk rate through 191 plate appearances, but he still isn’t making contact as consistently as he once did and has a rather pedestrian .242 batting average thus far.
Adding to Upton’s unease about hitting the free agent market could be the fact that he went unsigned for most of the winter before signing with Detroit on Jan. 2020 of the 2015-16 offseason. While he still received a contract within the range of the one most experts thought he would get, the fact that he remained on the market so long automatically increased the possibility that he’d lose value in the same way players like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo did this past winter.
Outfielders scheduled to hit free agency after this season include Carlos Gonzalez, Lorenzo Cain, J.D. Martinez, and Jay Bruce, so Upton would certainly have some competition on the free agent market if he were to opt out. And with front offices’ increasing hesitancy to sign players over 30 to long-term contracts, Upton might have difficulty getting the term he desires as he approaches his age-30 season in 2018.